SmartRecruiters Hiring Success Journal

Define Your Candidate Persona in 4 Steps

With a precise concept of the target demographic, recruiters can source with laser precision – here’s how!

It’s no secret that in the past five years, recruiting has espoused marketing tactics to attract passive and highly sought-after talent in this time of skill shortages, especially in technical fields. Email campaigns, creative advertising, and meetups showcasing the company culture and values are all popular means by which Talent Acquisition (TA) practitioners try to attract top applicants.  And they can be highly effective provided one thing, the team has designed these programs with their candidate persona in mind.

So what is a candidate persona exactly?

It’s very similar to the buyer persona used in marketing and sales, which Hubspot defines as “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”

Replace customer with candidate/employees and you’ve pretty much got it.

A candidate persona is “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal [candidate] based on market research and real data about your existing [employees].”

Why bother creating a candidate persona?

Consider your candidate persona as the framework guiding your team’s creative efforts.

The truth is, defining your candidate persona prior to the launch of marketing and recruiting efforts will save you and your team a lot of time in the long run by ensuring those campaigns are well tailored to the people you want to attract.

The key here is research! But with so much information available in our digital world, it can be hard to know where to start. The following is a four-step guide to honing in on your target audience so you can start sourcing the best talent for your company.

Woman Using Silver Iphone X While Leaning on Wall and Smiling

1. Create a questionnaire

Below are some example questions, and largely they are similar to questions sales and marketing use to define their buyer persona, but there are some important differences. The questions your team use to define the candidate persona should not encourage bias, meaning protected classes such as age, marital status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, should not be factors. For example, you wouldn’t want to say ‘my candidate personae is a 40-year-old married man who goes to church every Sunday.’ Even some non-protected classes like ‘level of education’ should be left out if the role could be filled by someone with equivalent experience.

  • What social network does your candidate use?
  • What types of music and podcasts does my candidate listen to?
  • Where is your candidate in their career (Jr, Management, Sr. Etc)?
  • What’s the biggest project my candidate has ever taken on?
  • What are your candidate’s professional goals?
  • What benefits does your candidate care about?
  • What does your candidate do for fun?
  • What are your candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?

2. Find Successes

Current and past employees know firsthand what the company has to offer, and what is missing. The goal is to be as precise as possible to create a better marketing and recruitment strategy, so it’s best to offer anonymity to ensure honest answers.

Look for people within the company (or outside if it’s a new position) who are successful in the role already. Talk to them to understand what motivated them to join the company, what career level they were at when they were hired, and if they know of any professional groups on or offline that you could approach to learn more.

3. Use your CV database

When using your CV database to surface applicants make sure to test your assumptions. Let’s say you are searching keywords to surface candidates, add in the resumes of people who were hired into that role previously to see if they appear in your search, if not then that search may be irrelevant.

4. Get online

Analyze the online behavior of some top candidates, including the type of content they share and with whom, their activities, their groups, etc. can provide insight into their motivations and interests.

If you engage in an online forum as a researcher, be sure to be respectful of the space and opt for the ‘quiet observer’ role. If you start spamming the feed, you will be removed and recruiters in the future won’t be allowed in.

What now?

Once you have your questionnaire completed and you feel like you know your candidate persona inside and out, it’s time to start engaging. Use what you have learned (not assumed, this only works if you get real information) to message your candidates effectively both in content and channel.

This can mean finding the right job board (check out Jobboard Finder) or even creating a ‘coding playlist’ on Spotify. Maybe your candidate persona loves a certain type of podcast so you want to advertise there, or they can’t get enough artisanal treats so you set up a booth at your local farmers market. Get creative, the sky’s the limit!

Ali Neill

Ali Neill